Frangokastello in south-west Crete
Frangokastello (or Frangocastello) is in the area of Sfakia, on the south coast of west Crete, 13 kilometres east of Chora Sfakion and west of Plakias.
Frangokastello is a small seaside village with a few houses and quite a few rooms for rent and apartments for tourists. It is famous for its Venetian castle of the same name, which is preserved in very good condition, its beautiful beaches and the Drosoulites, the ghosts which appear at Frangokastello at dawn each May. Many monuments were built in the area through the centuries, but very few survive today. Most were destroyed in the wars and risings in the area, and the stones from their ruins used to build the castle.
Frangokastello lies in a surprisingly small plain in the shadow of the eastern range of the White Mountains, with the gorge and mountain of Kallikratis. This landscape is one of the many surprises the natural environment of Crete has to offer visitors.
Frangokastello, useful information
At Frangokastello you will find many rooms and apartments for your holiday, along with several tavernas serving delicious food and fresh fish. Don’t forget to try the traditional local specialities such as tsigariasto (sautéed kid or lamb), boureki (courgette potato bake) and Sfakianes pites (sweet cheese pies).
There is also a mini-market in Frangokastello, but if you need cash the nearest cashpoint is in Chora Sfakion, where the rural surgery also operates.
For nightlife there is a friendly little bar in Frangokastello.
How to get to Frangokastello from the west
To get to Frangokastello from Chania, you need to drive up to Askyfou Plateau and then descend to Chora Sfakion, driving alongside the imposing sheer cliffs of the Imbros Gorge. Soon you will see the endless blue of the Libyan Sea stretching out before you. Drive slowly and carefully on the hairpin bends, and remember that there may be a tourist coach coming up which will need the whole width of the bend to turn in.
Shortly before Chora Sfakion, turn left (east) and follow the signs to Frangokastello. The journey is approximately 1.5 hours’ drive from Chania.
How to get to Frangokastello from the east
If you’re coming from the east, leave Rethymno and head towards Plakias. Before Plakias, follow the signs to Rodakino, Frangokastello and Chora Sfakion. The route is quicker and easier than that from Chania, and takes about an hour from Rethymno.
Right in front of the castle is a lovely beach with very shallow water, ideal for small children.
West of the castle is another beach with pebbles and a rocky seabed suitable for snorkelling. Most of the rooms and apartments are on this side of the village.
About 300 metres east of the castle is one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete, known as “Orthi Ammos” (“Standing Sand”), named after the sand dunes you have to scramble down to reach the water. The sea is crystal-clear and the bottom slopes down very gently.
A small secret of Frangokastello is that to enjoy it you must not come when a north wind is blowing, or the sea will be rough and the sand will blast you mercilessly. Unfortunately the high mountains and the plain with few trees funnel the northerlies, something that happens in most of southern Crete.
The castle of Frangokastello
What remains of the castle of Frangokastello today is not very different from the way it looked when it was first built in 1371, but most of it was essentially reconstructed in the 19th century by Mustapha Naili Pasha, the same man who had destroyed it earlier when defeating the fighters of Hadzi Michalis Dalianis (see Frangokastello history).
Frangokastello was built according to the principles of fortification in the days before gunpowder and the “bastion system” that followed. It was never brought up to date because the area was of secondary importance to the Venetians.
The castle consists of four square towers linked by sheer curtain walls topped by serried battlements, forming a rectangular building. There is a small, arched entrance on the east side, while the main gateway, on the south, is decorated by carved coats of arms of noble families set into the walls. Above the entrance stands the winged lion of St Mark, the emblem of the Republic of Venice.
The southwest tower is larger than the other three and therefore more important, because it a) is larger, b) has a wider field of view, c) was the last place of defence if the castle was overrun, and d) protected the south main gate.
Along the inside of the walls were rectangular buildings, not perfectly preserved, which were used as barracks, stables, storerooms, kitchens, ovens, etc.
Read more: Frangokastello history
Monastery of Agios Charalambos
Near Frangokastello Castle and south of the Early Christian Basilica of Agios Nikitas, is the small monastery of Agios Charalambos. The small church of Agios Charalambos stood here until the Gregorios the monk and Magdalene the nun settled here shortly before 1821.
Thanks to their efforts, the small church soon expanded and the Monastery of Agios Charalambos was founded. The front of the church was built using stone from the ruined basilica of Astratigos. The monastery church is surrounded by battlements. To the west is the two-storey complex of monks’ cells, a typical feature of local architecture.
The wooden icon screen and icons in the monastery church are particularly interesting. The skilled craftsman who worked on Agios Charalambos is conventionally called the “Painter of Frangokastello”. His works are also found in Moni Preveli. Unfortunately some of the icons from the Monastery of Agios Charalambos have been stolen.
Agios Astratigos and Agios Nikitas
The ruins of the Early Christian Basilicas of Agios Nikitas and Agios Astratigos are located in the area of Frangokastello.
What to do in Frangokastello
Read about the opportunities offered by this area of south Crete, known as Sfakia.